There once was a mother who longed for the suburban Japan she’d once lived in: a Hayao Miyazaki universe of lush gardens where camellias grew wild around and the chorus of tree frogs was deafening. The woman had to leave Hayama and return to American with her husband. They became parents. But because the children were raised on American computer animation, they preferred slapstick like Shrek and Puss in Boots, which when viewed in 3-D made the mother’s stomach and head feel bad.
In the theater earlier this year, just before one of the awful American animated films began, a trailer played for “The Secret World of Arietty.” The mother realized it had to somehow be connected with the May Norton book she’d enjoyed in her childhood half a century ago–although the story seemed different. But this new film, distributed by Disney, was made at Ghibli, Miyazaki’s famous studio. It looked gorgeous. She promised herself that somehow or other, she would get at least one child to go with her to see it.
So it came that on a wintry Monday night, one excited mother and one reluctant ten-year-old son got tickets to The Secret World of Arietty, which was blissfully non-3-D– although with the brilliant artistic animation, ivy rustled as if it was truly dimensional, and pearl-like drops of water on leaves burst as the sun dries them. And the story was enchanting; a 12 year-old city boy goes to spend some quiet months with his elderly aunt in her French style chateau (although it is Japan). He’s sickly and facing heart surgery; all the adults try to protect him from exerting himself. Then he meets the tiny Borrower, Arrietty, who lives in a beautiful tiny home her parents have made inside some bricks in the basement. And he realizes that he can protect someone whose sincere appreciation gives him the happiness he’s missing. Other especially entertaining characters are a grumpy, chubby cat who’ll remind you of Tottoro; a Tarzanish boy Borrower who lives alone in the wild, and a comic ‘obachan’ housekeeper (voiced by Carol Burnett in the English language version).
As I watched, I marveled at how much my son looked like Sho (pronounced Shawn in the American version). And for once, I let him whisper excitedly through the movie. “Mom, they’re smaller than tea cups!” And “Mom, that counter must be the height of our whole house!” He appeared spellbound during the film, but afterward would only admit to a “good” rating.
When I got home, I went online to look at Japanese trailers for the original version; for me, the music was much more gorgeous sung in Japanese, and I thought some of the characters, like Arrietty’s mother, sounded much more gentle and appealing when speaking Japanese.
But frankly, my Japanese isn’t fluent enough to have made it through the original film, and I didn’t want to miss a word of the story, because the emotions expressed are so sweet. Just like the existentialist, unfulfilled love of Sean and Arrietty.
I quoted the last sentence to my son. He said: “What?”
But I know he liked it.